MONTREAL -- Hundreds of children who showed up for the game-day skates at the Bell Centre yesterday were disappointed that Sidney Crosby wasn't in town.
So were countless thousands in the capacity crowd at the game last night between the Penguins and Montreal.
And even a couple of the guys who had expected to spend the evening trying to neutralize Crosby weren't happy that he wasn't around, either.
"It's always a great challenge to play against a great player like that," said Canadien Maxim Lapierre, who figured to be matched up against Crosby's line. "It's a good thing for us, because he's a really, really dangerous player."
Mike Komisarek, who teams with Andrei Markov on Montreal's top defense pairing, would have been spending a lot of quality time with Crosby, too, if Crosby hadn't gotten a high ankle sprain in the Penguins' 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay Friday at Mellon Arena.
"Anytime you lose one of the top players in the league -- or arguably one of the best players in the world -- it's a huge blow," Komisarek said. "A guy like that is always fun to play against, because it's a huge challenge.
"He's a guy who is so dynamic in so many different ways. He can hurt you every time he's on the ice. Obviously, it's nice to have him out, but it's always nice to play against him.
"He's a guy who likes to compete a lot, and I'm the same way."
Penguins goalie Dany Sabourin made his first start since Dec. 21 last night, and he did it on a big stage.
Not only was the Penguins-Montreal game the primary one broadcast on "Hockey Night in Canada," but Sabourin, who played an exhibition game at the Bell Center last fall, is on a first-name with some of the people who attended it.
"I have family and friends coming to the game," he said. "When I played here in the preseason game, that was an awesome experience."
That likely is not how he would describe the past month, during which Ty Conklin started 11 consecutive games and 12 of 13, but Sabourin said backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver last season helped to prepare him for extended layoffs.
"I've tried to play hard in practice, with emotion," he said.
"It worked last year, when I was playing like once a month."
There still is no timetable for Crosby to return to the lineup, and likely won't be until he undergoes a thorough examination early this week.
Although he was checked by the team's training staff in Pittsburgh yesterday, a complete examination won't be done until the swelling in his injured right ankle subsides.
Not that his teammates can afford to focus on the information that will come out of that visit to the doctor.
"Whether [he's out] a month or two months, we have to win games without him," defenseman Ryan Whitney said yesterday.
Crosby was injured when his right foot bent awkwardly as he slid into the boards behind the Tampa Bay net at 7:37 of the opening period Friday.
He went to the locker room immediately and did not return.
The Canadiens entered the game last night one point ahead of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings, but not by virtue of their play at the Bell Centre. Montreal began the night one game over .500 (8-7-5) on home ice.
"We seem to be a lot more comfortable on the road," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said.
"We still have a young team, and on the road you have less distractions."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .